The ABC’s of N’awlins Cuisine

It only makes sense for me to blog about food while I’m in this city. Mostly because the cuisine here consists of some of the most unique dishes in America. And also because I just love food. My roommate, who is a law student, sometimes comes with me to dinner and drinks with the other dietetic interns. On many occasion she has asked us if we “seriously talk about anything other than food”. Nope. Food is what we do. And I’m sure that the world-renowned cuisine of New Orleans played a part in bringing us all here.

While on my run today my mind was wandering to it’s usual subject – need I say what this is? I started brainstorming through the alphabet trying to come up with a classic New Orleans dish for each letter. I think I did it! Obviously there are way more than 26 classic dishes but I want to introduce you all to some of the best, a few letters at a time.

A is for Alligator Sausage. Try it smoked, on a pizza, in a po’boy, or even an alligator sausage cheesecake! In my opinion, no matter how you try it, it’s going to be good. I think it does have a very distinct flavor. Finally a dish that you can say does not just “taste like chicken”! It’s also leaner than it’s pork sausage alternative. Hah – you really can find the nutritional information for anything on My Fitness Pal!

2 oz Cajun Gator Sausage – 70 cal, 2.0 g fat, 11.0 g protein

2 oz Cajun Andouille Pork Sausage – 160 cal, 11 g fat, 15 g protein

B is for Beignets and Bananas Foster.

I’ve talked about beignets in a previous blog post. I’ll spare you the nutritional information of this Cafè Du Monde classic French “fritter”, but beignets are just good for your soul. Some people say they’re over-rated, I beg to differ. If you ask me, not enough good things can ever be said about a deep fried dough ball caked in powdered sugar.

Bananas foster is a well-known specialty dessert with a not-so-well-known origin. Surprise! It was created right here in The Crescent City! Everyone who loves this dessert owes a big “thank you” to Paul Blangè, who created this masterpiece in 1951 at Brennan’s Restaurant in NOLA. This restaurant is still a huge French Quarter attraction and the Brennan family also owns Commander’s Palace – the famous garden district restaurant. I haven’t had the opportunity to try this dish in it’s native form since I’ve been here. I have gotten to try it on french toast though! Who said you can’t have dessert for breakfast anyway?

Drooling yet?

Drooling yet?

C is for Crawfish.

My feelings while waiting  for crawfish season are comparable to the excitement and anticipation that a 5 year old experiences between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Apparently I’m going to be teased by off-season crawfish until late-February. You may call me a food snob, but I do refuse to eat them until their respected season. I am sure I will not be let down when I finally get to taste one. Although, I am still weary about the idea of crustaceans being served without Old Bay. Isn’t that, like, sacrilegious or something?

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New “post” = new posts!

By “post” I mean location — New Orleans!! The blogging hiatus is over. Phew, that was a long 7 months! Lost in the excitement of my last semester of college, my (in my mind) LAST summer of freedom, my birthday, and my move to the Big Easy, I gave up blogging. And I really want it back. Of course, so much has happened over the past month since I moved and I will catch you up on that later. For now, lets focus on whats important: IT’S NATIONAL CHEESEBURGER DAY!

Yes, we all know cheeseburgers take a lot of heat for the declining poor health of America, but everything in moderation, right? It’s human nature to crave meat. After all, it’s how we survived for hundreds of thousands of years, before the invention of Taco Bell. And, at least for me, once the meat craving hits nothing is right in the world until I get my hands on a big juicy cheeseburger – or at least a variation of one. Since I’ve been in New Orleans, I’ve only had this insatiable craving once, since my mind is still overwhelmed by the amount of fresh oysters I can get daily. But at that point, a burger was all I wanted. So I asked my native friends for a few suggestions and all fingers pointed to The Company Burger. I had yet to venture down the street where Company Burger is, but I will definitely be heading that way more often. The place is kind of tucked away into a strip plaza, next to a gym – how’s that for some irony. I did really love it, though! Their variety was delightfully surprising and I think they offer just enough to satisfy everyone, but not too many options to overwhelm you. I for one know I am the type of person who is entirely overwhelmed by most burger joints. Oh sorry, waitress, you’ll have to come back a sixth time because I’m still reviewing the 80 types of cheese you offer. No one wants that. And The Company Burger keeps it simple, yet delicious. Everyone give it a shot!

My meal: Lamb burger, sweet potato fries, ginger peach rum tea (their cocktails aren’t half bad either!)

Oh! And an added bonus: they have a really awesome homemade mayo bar!

The Buzz on Caffeine

As I dive into the nitty gritty of my last semester of college (*panic*), I am reminded daily of my ingrained caffeine habits. I was asked yesterday by my friend, “Do you drink coffee everyday?”, and I was forced to reveal my 3-4 cups daily habit. Even though my opinion  may be biased, I think caffeine has an undeserved bad rap. After all, it has been shown that coffee is the number 1 source of antioxidants in American’s diets. And I’m sure those who seek caffeine from tea are well aware of it’s benefits, too!

There are a few interesting facts about caffeine containing beverages that most people aren’t aware of.

 

COFFEE

1) Like chocolate, coffee is a fruit! Its’ ‘berries’ contain two small seeds in the center. These seeds are in fact the coffee ‘beans’! Once removed from their tough outer skin, they are roasted and turn from green to  black.

2) Roasting the beans actually decreases the caffeine content. The longer the beans are roasted (darker roast) the less caffeine they have. I think this is interesting because technically espresso grounds have less caffeine than coffee grounds; but because espresso grounds are tightly packed when brewed, the resulting beverage has a higher caffeine content.

3) Decaffeinated coffee is not 100% decaffeinated! Only about 97% of the caffeine can be extracted from the beans.

 

TEA

1) All teas are derived from the camelia sinensis plant! Their differences arise during the processing phase.

  • Green tea leaves are heated, steamed, and then rolled to give a lighter color tea.
  • Black tea leaves are dried and then rolled, and are slightly fermented.
  • Oolong tea is a mix between green and black teas.
  • White tea made with only the bud of the tea plant.

2) Herbal teas are a little bit different. They are not necessarily derived from camelia sinesis and they may contain flowers, bark, fruits, and other leaves.

 

There are so many more fun facts to learn about these beverages. Comment or message me if you’re interested 🙂 Every food can fit into a healthy diet and coffees and teas are a good way to pack in some extra antioxidants!

The “Sitting Disease”

The past few days in Maryland have been FRIGID, which makes it even harder to find motivation to get out of a warm bed and head to the gym in the morning. However, after 4 long days of sitting during recruitment meetings, I was SO antsy to get moving. While I was there, an interesting story was on CNN about the “sitting disease”. Of course, this is not a REAL disease that can contract. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this so called disease is in some sense “contagious” and could have just as many adverse affects as any other disease.

One phrase that comes to mind when I think about this is “move it or lose it”. The more time you spend sitting around, the more your muscles and bones waste away, the weaker you get. Unfortunately for Americans, it is easy to “catch” the sitting disease. So many jobs don’t even require you to leave your desk! When I worked at The NIH I was miserable having to sit for entire 8 hour shifts. I would try to break up the day into 30 minute segments and at the end of each I would do a few lunges, bicep curls, or jog around the building just one time. These things take no more than 5 minutes and make such a difference in the long run. Try to incorporate more exercise into your day, especially you have a job like I did at The NIH. Also, remember to stay active after you come home from work. Go for a walk outside (weather permitting), or clean your house for an hour. Every little bit helps!

As an under 25 dietetics student, my professors have always stressed to me how important it is to build muscle and bone mass early in life. Women reach their peak bone density (in their early 20’s) earlier than most men do. Back to my “move it or lose it” point, if you aren’t performing weight bearing exercise on a regular basis (lifting, running, swimming), your bones will quickly (more quickly for women) deteriorate. While it is possible to build bone density later in life, it is much harder. So get active, stay active, prevent yourself from getting the sitting disease, and protect your muscles, bones, and body!

La Cena di Sette Pesce

Or in other words: The dinner of the seven fish.

This dinner is another one of my favorite family traditions. The traditional Italian feast is held on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just as any other good Italian-American family would do, we go all out for this. My Dad usually makes a run to the Pittsburgh strip district a few days before to stock up on everything that we can’t get at our local grocery store. I don’t think the menu has ever been the same two years in a row, but my favorite dish has been a staple in the feast for as long as I can remember. Any guesses? If you thought ‘fried smelt’, you were right!

The itty bitty fried fish (head and tail in tact) have been my favorite snack for as long as my family has celebrated the feast. Smelt, along with salmon, tuna, and other sea-going fish are so packed with beneficial essential fatty acids. These omega 3’s and 6’s help maintain cell membranes (preventing dry skin!), and aid in eicosanoid formation. These eicosanoids are important in immune function, and preventing atherogenesis and heart attacks. Family gathering, good food and drinks, and bonus health benefits; who wouldn’t want to have a seven fish dinner?

This past year, we made most of the ‘traditional’ dishes, and added a few creations for their first trial run. I was, of course, put in charge of the desserts for the event, which I will soon post about! The menu was as follows:

Antipasti

Eperlani Fritti

(Fried Smelt)

Calamari Fritti con Porri

(Fried Squid with Leeks)

 

Primi

Linguine con Acciughe

(Anchovy Pasta)

Polenta con Ragu di Baccala

(Cod Ragu over Polenta)

Branzino Arrostato con Sale Marino e Odori

(Branzino with Sea Salt and Herbs)

 

Secondi

Tonno Siciliano con Capperi e Olive

(Tuna with Capers and Olives)

Cavolo al Vapore con Cipolla

(Steamed Kale with Onion)

 

Insalate

Insalata di Polpo

(Octopus Salad)

Insalata Caprese

(Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella)

 

Revolutionize Your Resolutions!

So I just spent 30 minutes writing a post and it was erased when I tried to submit it! Ahh! I will attempt to recreate what I had the first time. Everyone looks forward to the beginning of a new year. I think it is comparable to the start of a new chapter in your life. You can set goals for yourself knowing that you have an entire 365 days to complete them. It is important to make sure your goals are attainable. I am sure so many people go to their kitchen on January 1st and throw out all junk food, buy smaller sized clothes, and vow to exercise everyday. However, it is not that simple to just change your lifestyle in the matter of a day. It is all about gradual changes that will stick in the long run.

For the past few years, my best friend Rock and I have come up with 25 things to do each year. Some are simple, fun things and others are more far-reaching. We figured that if we accomplished at least one of our things to do, we would feel a little bit satisfied. Last year,  a few things I accomplished were: getting straight A’s, being a vegetarian for a month, not eating McDonald’s (with the exception of 1 McFlurry – but it wasn’t too bad!), hiking more, running a half-marathon, and playing more with my dog, Enzo. I am especially happy that I accomplished the last one since Enzo went to doggy heaven on December 27th.

I have not completed my list for 2013, but here are a few things I have come up with:

Blog more

Get an internship

Get a second job for the Spring semester

Graduate with a GPA above 3.5

Go to church more (I’ll admit, I’m a cafeteria christian)

Eat more raw foods

Run 10 miles a week

Read biographies

Travel more

Save more money

Complete a triathlon

These goals are, for the most part, attainable for me. You should consider what is attainable for you. Even if it is just increasing your physical activity to 60 minutes a week instead of 3o, or cleaning the house once a week, starting small will allow you to stick with your resolution in the long run. I hope all of you have a happy and healthy 2013 🙂

A Twist on Traditional

Anyone who knows my family or has been to any of our holiday ‘gatherings’ knows that we prepare dishes that are anything but traditional. Last Thursday, in the midst of oyster shucking on the back porch and our infamous living room open bar, my Dad and I were in the kitchen preparing our Thanksgiving dishes. Being the confectioner that I am, I was put in charge of making the pies. I decided on two traditional pumpkin pies and one derby pie (this is where the twist comes in!). I am sure most people have the traditional pecan pie at their Thanksgiving table, but I wanted to try something different. While looking up recipes, I came across a recipe for the derby pie. Instead of the traditional pecan pie, the derby pie also included chocolate chips and Kentucky bourbon. It is often associated with the Kentucky Derby – hence the name. I used a Paula Dean recipe  for the pie crust that I had experimented with before in one of my food labs at school. The recipe, obviously pre-diabetes, is a very traditional one that turns out a delicious flakey crust.

Fun Fact: Shortening is an ingredient used in many desserts that have flakey crust. It received its’ name because it ‘shortens’ the gluten strands in the dough, promoting the flakey texture!

I first toasted the pecan halves in a skillet to give them more flavor, and set about 1/2 cup aside so I could sprinkle them on top. I used whiskey instead of bourbon and also did not mix the chocolate chips into the pie filling, but made a bed of them on the bottom of the crust. I poured the pie filling over the bed of chocolate chips, sprinkled the extra pecans on top, and baked to perfection.

post bake

 

The second experimental ‘traditional’ dish we prepared was our stuffed turkey. Okay, so this one was mostly my Father but I can say that after watching him I would be ready to create my own! We stuffed our turkey with spinach, sauteed mushrooms, and fried oysters – delicious! We first had to bread and fry the oysters and saute the mushrooms. Next, we pounded out the turkey using a small cast iron skillet and layered the spinach, mushrooms, and oysters on top. Rolling and tying it up took both of us about 15 minutes, we were not about to let any stuffing fall out and go to waste in the oven. We placed a few stalks of celery on the bottom of a deep baking dish and placed the turkey on top. Before it went into the oven we sprinkled it with a few seasonings (black pepper, fennel, rosemary, that I can remember) and covered it with foil. It took about an hour in the oven on 325 to bake and it turned out so well! Everyone at dinner seemed to love it, even those who are not so fond of oysters. At your next family gathering, think out of the box try to create something out of the ordinary, I’m sure it will be a hit!

baked